- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing a controversial Muslim cleric from US soil in a meeting with Turkish government ministers in September, former CIA Director James Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Flynn disclosed the meeting to the Justice Department in his FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) filing late last month. The filing acknowledged that Flynn’s lobbying group, Flynn Intel Group, conducted research that “focused on” the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, for Inovo – a Dutch consulting firm owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.
Alptekin is a member of a Turkish economic relations board run by an appointee of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Flynn’s firm was tasked with lobbying the US government to extradite Gulen – a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan believes is responsible for planning last year’s attempted coup and generally fomenting dissent inside Turkey.
Flynn raised eyebrows when he wrote an op-ed article for The Hill, published November 8, alleging that Gulen helmed a “vast global network” that “has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network.”
At that point, Flynn’s work for Inovo had not yet made news so the op-ed seemed out of place amid his work with the Trump campaign. Flynn’s DOJ filing says the op-ed “was not written or published at the request of, or under the direction or control of, Inovo, the Republic of Turkey, or any other party.”
Woolsey, a Flynn Intel Group board member who was present at the September meeting, said that Flynn and the Turkish ministers went further than talking about how to lobby for Gulen’s extradition, however, and discussed how they could physically remove Gulen from the country.
The idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,”Woolsey said, adding that he thought it was “naive” of them to think they could bypass the US’ “legal process” and people’s constiutional rights.
“You don’t send out folks to haul somebody overseas,” Woolsey told The Journal.
Price Floyd, a spokesman for Flynn, strongly denied that such a discussion ever took place, telling Business Insider on Friday that Flynn was contracted by Inovo, in part, “to gather information on Gulen and turn it over to legal authorities to take action.”
“At no time did they discuss anyillegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities,” Floyd added.
Reached for comment, Woolsey’s spokesperson, Jonathan Franks, said that the former CIA director stands by his story. Franks confirmed that Woolsey had notified Vice President Joe Biden, through a mutual friend, of what he thought could be an illegal discussion. The Obama administration said it would not extradite Gulen until Turkey provided the necessary evidence of his complicity in the coup, but Trump has not said how he plans to address the issue, if at all.
Alptekin, who paid Flynn’s firm just over $500,000 for the four months of lobbying, told the Associated Press earlier this month that he did not agree with Flynn’s decision to register as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice for his work with Inovo.
“It would be different if I was working for the government of Turkey, but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government,” Alpetkin said.
Still, Flynn said in his filing with the DOJ that his work for Inovo “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”